The Colorado Ski Lodge Gets a Makeover

Breckenridge’s Gravity Haus features a modern look—and ethos. Is this the new face of mountain lodging?

The Colorado Ski Lodge Gets a Makeover

Fireplace? Conversation-friendly seating? An animal-friendly “nod” to traditional ski-lodge taxidermy decor? The lobby at Gravity Haus ticks all the boxes.

Rendering courtesy of Vail Resorts

COVID disclaimer: This story was originally reported in February, before quarantine began. The hotel has since reopened June 5, 2020, with contactless pre-registration and other changes. Gravity Haus still aims to be a community center, albeit with social distancing in mind. Check the website for the latest COVID-related updates.

Soft house music plays in the ground floor common space as my sister and I check into our hotel in the Colorado mountain town of Breckenridge. A couple chats on the velvety blue sofa, gazing at the gas-lit fireplace. A woman sits reading in a sun-drenched chair near the window, a red flannel blanket over her legs, while another woman circles a latte holding her phone, in search of the perfect Insta angle. Overlooking the scene is a huge aluminum deer head with a puzzle-cut design; an artistic call, perhaps, to bring cancel culture to taxidermy.

This mashup—part traditional ski lodge, part modern community living room—is part of what drew me to Gravity Haus, which opened in December 2019 in between Breckenridge’s lively Main Street and the high-speed QuickSilver chairlift. Its founder—Denver entrepreneur Jim Deters—envisioned it as someplace a little different, as evidenced by exposed pipes, floors of concrete and reclaimed train-car wood, and walls made of repurposed cargo containers.

But this 60-room inn aims to do more than bring industrial-chic to a higher altitude. With sustainably farmed coffee, a coworking space (trendsetting before everyone went work remote), gym classes open to locals, membership options, and room rates from just $120, Gravity Haus not only seeks to attract ecoconscious adventurers but also to redefine the mountain lodge experience.

Bunking down (affordably)

That redefinition begins with price. While the cost of skiing comes as no surprise—a one-day adult lift ticket retails in the hundreds in this area—the total outlay for rentals, meals, and transportation can cause sticker shock, even before adding accommodations.

A new model could help convince those on the fence. In the past decade, the season-ticket standard has been rocked by multi-mountain programs like the Epic, Mountain Collective, and Ikon passes that let skiers follow the snow to different resorts—a winter game plan once only open to wealthy skiers. And now that “luxury hostel” is no longer an oxymoron, these more affordable options are creeping into mountain towns across North America. The appeal isn’t just lower prices, but a community spirit that helps travelers more easily connect.

In Whistler, British Columbia, for example, guests at Pangea Pod Hotel sleep in private, design-forward, capsule-like accommodations and before COVID, could sing karaoke, play boardgames, and sip cocktails in shared spaces like the “Living Room” and a rooftop patio bar. At South Lake Tahoe’s Basecamp Hotel, sharing après with locals at the popular on-site beer garden is one perk, as is a four-minute walk to the lifts and room layouts that range from bunk rooms to romantic suites.

Gravity Haus has a variety of room configurations for everyone from couples to sizable groups of friends.

Gravity Haus has a variety of room configurations for everyone from couples to sizable groups of friends.

Courtesy of Vail Resorts

Gravity Haus, managed by Vail Resorts, isn’t a hostel, but it doesn’t shy away from bunk beds, either. Room types vary greatly: The rooms my sister and I shared came with a king bed in the main room (and a cozy sitting area), plus a smaller room with a twin bunk. Other rooms feature only bunk beds—some queen-size and custom-designed—and there’s also a shared-bath “pod room,” with four bedrooms that each have a twin bed. “After a long day of skiing,” said general manager Shannon Best as she showed me around, “some people just want a place to crash.”

Plus, stacking mattresses helps keep occupancy high and prices low—and going vertical helps maintain the minimalist-by-design feel to the rooms (as do touches like an exposed closet). My room came with a safe, fridge, and hair dryer, but in all rooms, items like an iron and ironing board are available only by request. “Why fill the room with things people likely won’t need or want in a mountain town?” said Best.

One thing she hopes people will want, however, is an ecoconscious sensibility; rooms include Newly throw blankets made with microfiber from recycled plastic bottles and EO Essential Oil’s Zero Waste body and bath products. Another feature she hopes people are seeking is community, which is why every room includes a book. “Right off the bat,” said Best, “it gives guests something to discuss.”

Fueling up for work and play

I didn’t overhear any discussions about literary fiction, but mountain conditions always make for easy ski-town conversation—and for a small group at the hotel’s quiet après-ski, talk of the day’s runs was mixed with “next steps” for their business. In fact, work-and-play multitaskers were everywhere; in the mornings before the lifts opened, laptops lined the counter at the Unravel coffee shop.

Whether they knew it or not, they were also supporting the coffee chain’s unique mission. Another creation of Jim Deters, Unravel launched in Denver with a focus on sustainability. That’s not just a buzzword here: Unravel works directly with Ethiopian farmers to source the beans and then roasts them using a zero-emission process on-site. Pre-COVID, nothing was single-use, and that’s even true for to-go cups; Unravel used mason jars. To get the jars back, Unravel was in the process of setting up receptacles around town and at the top of the QuickSilver lift. It’s a mission that fits Vail Resorts’ Commitment to Zero.

In other hotel gathering spots, people congregated around lobby chairs, playing a version of Jenga with oversize blocks. Others chatted in the on-site “onsen” while soaking in hot tubs and drying off in the sauna. In the restaurant, Cabin Juice, skiers moved from “grab and go” goodies in the morning to sit-down evening meals and filled the rectangular wraparound bar, where craft beverages are on tap.

Even the gym—Dryland Sports (another Deters creation)—feels community oriented, set up as much for classes as it is for individual workouts. Following another trend in small mountain towns, there’s a stylish coworking space. The activity-desk area, too, is set up with group seating, offering plenty of space for those booking outings (through local operator Colorado Adventure Guides) like snowshoeing or backcountry skiing or, in summer, hiking or climbing.

Stepping out

A bluebird day in charming and snowy Breckenridge means the slopes will be busier than the streets.

A bluebird day in charming and snowy Breckenridge means the slopes will be busier than the streets.

Photo by Rich Beattie

Those adventures begin outside the hotel’s ski locker room (where lockers sync efficiently with room keys); steps away, chairlifts whisk skiers off to Breckenridge’s five peaks and nearly 200 trails that offer a something-for-everyone mix of terrain. My sister and I arrived during the mountain’s snowiest February on record and took advantage of the abundant powder, which fully blanketed even the widest runs and perfectly dusted challenging moguls.

And right outside the hotel is the town. It had been several years since I had visited, and I had forgotten how charming it is; even the local Starbucks is set in a yellow bungalow. A festive spirit had lingered into late February; snow, piled high along the sidewalks, reflected the Christmas lights that still adorned Main Street. The scene warmed up chilly evenings as we walked to outstanding restaurants like Aurum.

Moving forward is all downhill from here

With a lowercase “g” and “h,” the Gravity Haus logo may form a low profile, but make no mistake—this is a brand with big dreams. A sister property in Vail was slated to begin renovations this year.

Tying the experience together—and creating an even larger community—are membership options that offer perks and discounts across locations. It’s a touch of Soho House, though (fittingly) more open: You don’t have to be a member to book a hotel stay. A membership is just another way in to Gravity Haus—a unique, welcoming mountain experience that seems to have hit an of-the-moment nerve.

>>Next: Yes, the Slopes Are Open This Year—But Skiing During COVID Will Be Different

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